Citizens Engagement & Democratic Innovation
The Citizen Engagement & Democratic Innovation programme provides tools for collective sense-making in the areas of community development and youth work, civic engagement and democratic innovation, collaborative service/policy design and evaluation, housing/tenant engagement, futures and planning, shared learning and peer-to-peer knowledge exchange.
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Citizen engagement is essential for a healthy and thriving democracy. The underpinning philosophy of citizen engagement is that people are entitled to decision making power regarding decisions that impact their lives beyond simply voting for a representative once every few years. Citizen engagement can take many forms such as direct outreach to citizens and information campaigns, public meetings and consultation, deliberative processes such as citizens’ assemblies and citizens’ juries, and using SenseMaker®.

The degree of citizen engagement can be measured on Arnstein’s ladder of engagement which ranges from manipulation at the bottom to citizen control at the top. Lower rungs of engagement are about one way communication; decision-makers telling citizens their plans. The higher rungs of the metaphorical ladder refer to when citizens have real decision-making power, they are in dialogue with decision-makers, and information, stories and ideas flow between them.

The Citizen Engagement & Democratic Innovation programme is for governments, public institutions, organisations, local communities and NGOs wishing to foster a robust democracy through evidence-informed decision-making and serving citizens and communities through citizen-engagement in problem solving, the involvement of local, individual voices, and leadership through empowerment.


It gives citizens a chance to raise their voices and be heard by each other and those who serve them. This can be an immensely empowering experience in and of itself and sets citizens/community members up to continue being a proactive force for good in their communities. This creates strong and resilient communities which can tackle challenges head on.

The effectiveness of many public/community interventions and policies depends on the response of citizens and communities. If citizens/communities feel they have not been properly consulted or feel powerless to effect decisions which impact their lives, they can will be disenfranchised and have no desire to make an intervention work.

Citizen engagement is essential to build citizens’ trust in institutions. Trust enables social cohesion and enables smooth policies and service implementation. Trust is particularly important in times of crisis. Collaboration between citizens, communities and decision-makers is essential to bolster our democracies and to create the society we want to live in; a more effective, democratic, and healthy society.


With SenseMaker®, we can create deeper, more inclusive, and more far-reaching engagement to advance our democracies. We use real-time feedback to create more strategic and evidence-informed decision making. We empower citizens and communities to co-create on a local scale so they can rewrite the global story.

SenseMaker® allows us to hear ordinary peoples’ stories. In understanding their dinner-table conversations; their experiences, observations, and perceptions, we can decode the patterns that are really driving behaviours and attitudes. The stories we tell are a fundamental patterning device through which we understand the world and, therefore, capturing these stories and underpinning them with quantitative data creates contextualised insights into what is happening and why, from country to community level at any given time.

The power of interpretation always remains with the person who told the story; they decide what it means (self-signification) by completing quantitative questions about their story. This contrasts with the traditional questionnaires and qualitative studies, in which participants often feel they need to give the ‘right answer’ and the data is mediated by experts or researchers.
Our approach democratises the process, reveals unexpected insights decision-makers weren’t even looking for (in complexity theory, this is called ‘unknown unknowns’), and prevents misunderstanding due to context, experience, and/or language – we start with exploring, not with assuming.
Based on 20 years of research and situated learning, it is the world’s first scalable ethnographic research tool.

SenseMaker® can empower citizens to become experts and problem solvers in their own communities. The insights gained from SenseMaker® can not only inform intervention design, implementation, and when action should be taken, but also enables these steps to be taken in collaboration with communities. SenseMaker®’s capability to create a tailored approach to policy formation and evaluation enables accommodation of a diversity of needs across different / differing contexts. We use real-time feedback to create more strategic and evidence-informed decision-making, and we empower citizens and communities to co-create on a local scale so they can rewrite the global story.

Like all our programmes, members of the Citizens Engagement programme have access to the following support:

  • A network of practitioners in their area of expertise and beyond
  • Pre-designed and literature-supported material for their SenseMaker® collectors
  • SenseMaker® user licenses, the number of which depends on the type of membership
  • Training in designing and understanding SenseMaker® projects
  • Access to webinars and additional resources
  • Support in developing new methods, themes and areas of research that are consistent with the aims and direction of the citizens engagement programme.

contact  us  here

About the Cynefin Company

The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

Cognitive Edge Ltd. & Cognitive Edge Pte. trading as The Cynefin Company and The Cynefin Centre.


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